Five Ways Social Media Has Made me a Better College Professor

Two years ago in March 2015, I received my first wake-up call as a Public Relations professor. One of my good students wrote in his paper that he had never heard of Pinterest and had never used Twitter. I was in shock for two reasons.

🔶 ONE: I always thought my students were more digitally savvy than me. I was wrong.
🔶 TWO: My teaching had a gap. I was not preparing my students to work in today’s digitally driven world.

What was missing? I had done enough lectures and talks in my class regarding the importance of social media. Why what I shared wasn’t resonating with the students? Slowly and painfully, I learned the missing link in my teaching was ME. I hadn’t truly embraced what I had been preaching. Simply stated, I wasn’t walking the talk.

Fast-forward to today, I have been actively experimenting with social media and building my digital footprint as a college professor for two years. I have learned a lot on this journey.

Today, I want to share with you the top five benefits of incorporating social media as a pedagogical tool and how social media has made a better public relations professor.

Benefit ONE: Extended my professional networks

I used to struggle with finding guest speakers for my classes. I couldn’t find enough professionals to come to my classes, either physically or virtually, to share their day-to-day and latest industry practices with my students.

I felt bad for always relying on the same group of professionals to give guest talks every semester. After all, everyone’s time is limited. I still remember the day I reached out to my dear friend Karen Freberg (Karen Freberg, Ph.D.), an amazing social media professor who has been on this journey much longer than me. I asked Karen if she ever struggled with finding all these amazing speakers from the industry to talk to her students and if she paid them to speak to her class. Karen shared that she had never struggled with finding speakers and she didn’t pay them. I couldn’t help but wonder, how could things be so different between us?

Fast forward to the last semester I taught (Spring 2016) before starting my sabbatical,

I had a waiting list of speakers who wanted to speak to my class.

What a change! I brought fifteen speakers from all walks in public relations and social media marketing to speak to my four classes including a student-run public relations firm that I supervised. Many of my guest speakers are well-known professionals in their fields. For example, one distinguished public relations professional did a live Twitter chat with my entire Introduction to Public Relations class. We discussed how today’s digital landscape was affecting traditional public relations practices. The takeaways and knowledge that we learned as a class were amazing. The excitement from students was music to my ears. I couldn’t be happier as a professor.

My social connections have become students’ learning opportunities and networks.

From struggling with finding guest speakers to having a waiting list of guest speakers, the only thing that changed was my adoption of social media and a persistent and strategic approach to using social media to learn, network, and engage with industry professionals.

Benefit TWO: Developed a habit of lifelong learning

If you are a consumer of social media, you probably realize how fast social media changes. The only thing that doesn’t change about social media is probably change itself. Spending several hours a day on social media has molded me into a lifelong learner and student. It has become a natural habit of mine. And learning has become fun and exciting. I love doing Twitter chats, listening to podcasts, and watching Social Media Examiner’s (@SMExaminer) weekly Friday shows to learn the latest changes in social media. I brought everything I learned back to my classroom teaching. My teaching, as a result, has become much more relevant, up to date, and refreshing. I saw it clearly in my teaching evaluations.

Benefit THREE: More personal stories to share

Do you love listening to stories? Aren’t we all storytellers to some extent? When we connect with our friends, we bond over stories. When we go to job interviews, we support our accomplishments in quantifiable numbers with vivid stories. Stories are powerful. Especially when stories come from our personal experiences, they are even more compelling.

Maybe we can use two scenarios to illustrate the power of storytelling when it comes to teaching. Let’s say that I am going to teach my students what influencer marketing is. I will share with you two scenarios to deliver this concept.

Scenario ONE: Today we are talking about influencer marketing. Here is wikipedia’s definition: “a form of marketing in which focus is placed on specific key individuals (or types of individual) rather than the target market as a whole.” Show the definition on a PowerPoint slide and insert a few examples.

Scenario TWO: Tell the stories of how I developed a relationship with a social media influencer, Brian Fanzo @iSocialFanz, and how I gained the opportunity to do a guest blog on his website (hint: via Snapchat). I shared the top five ways that I used Snapchat as a teaching tool. Because of Brian’s influence and large followers’ base, my guest blog got 402 shares (to this day) and ranked fourth on a Google search of “how to use snapchat as a teaching tool.”

Which scenario seems more captivating to you from a student’s perspective? Probably vote for the second, right? Not only did students relate better to my personal stories, but because I was the narrator of my own storytelling, my story became live.

Benefit FOUR: More relatable to the students

Our students live in the social space. If you send them an email, it may take several hours or a day to receive an answer, but a Snap for instance, you get a response instantaneously. They speak the language of social media, emoji, and gifs. When they knew that they could get a hold of me through Snapchat, Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, they felt excited that I spoke their language. I became more relatable to my students. My teaching evaluations also scored higher. I love what social media influencer, Lori Ruff (Lori Ruff), shared,

Social media is here. It’s not going away; not a passing fad. Be where your customers are: in social media.
— Lori Ruff

Replace customers with students. That’s what made me more relatable to my students.

Benefit FIVE: Better Engagement from the students

Social media allows classroom discussion to happen outside of the regular class hours. The most rewarding feeling comes when I see students helping each other online without any involvement from me. The agency that students developed to engage in proactive learning and sharing was exciting to watch. Even during regular class hours, students enjoyed using our class hashtag on Twitter to express opinions and thoughts regarding what I talked about. Because the content is online and public, oftentimes we had people from the broader community engage in conversations with us.

Learning has become multidirectional.
— Ai Zhang



Social media has indeed made my classroom smaller by breaking down the physical walls. The fact that I am able to connect with so many professionals who were willing to give back to the academic community was unthinkable to me only two years ago. Social media has undoubtedly elevated my ability to teach students, to relate to them, and to expand their networks. Like everything else in life, social media can destroy or escalate one’s career. As educators, it is our call to identify ways to make technology serve us and to create a more digitally enhanced learning experience for our students.